During the Spring Quarter, DePaul University was one of a dozen institutions across the country (and the only one in Illinois other than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) to participate in the pilot of the “local version” of the Ithaka Faculty Survey, a national survey of faculty perspectives on the evolution of teaching and research practices in the digital age conducted triennially since 2000. While the Ithaka survey explores a wide variety of scholarly behaviors – from use of technology to approaches to conducting research to perspectives on scholarly communication and the role of the scholarly society – it has been notable for its documentation of changing perspectives among faculty on the place of the library in their work. Somewhat disheartening was a “key finding” from the 2012 national survey that faculty “perceive less value from many functions of the academic library than they did in the last cycle of this survey” and that the only exception to this trend was the increasing perception of the library’s role as a “gateway,” i.e., “a starting point for locating information for my research.” We in the library are certainly happy to be a “starting point for locating information” (and appreciate faculty recognition of that role in an information environment where “search” has been largely ceded to commercial entitles like Google and Amazon), but we were also relieved to find that DePaul faculty see their library in a slightly different light from that reported in the national study.
One very important contribution that the library makes at DePaul that our faculty recognize more clearly than suggested by the national survey is in the area of teaching and learning. Sixty-five percent of DePaul faculty completing the survey responded that it was “important” or “extremely important” for the library to “[support] and [facilitate] my teaching activities,” a rating that was 12% higher than the national response to that item on the survey. Likewise, 66% of DePaul faculty responded that it was “important” or “extremely important” for the library to help “undergraduates develop research, critical analysis, and information literacy skills,” which is 9% higher than the national response to that item. The greater recognition among DePaul faculty of the active role the library plays in teaching and learning across campus than seen in the national survey results is consistent with what we see each year at DePaul, where the demand for direct instruction by librarians for classes in all academic programs has grown from 452 sessions in FY11 to 467 sessions in FY13 (+3.3%), and the number of students reached by these sessions has grown during that time from 9,660 to 10,184 (+5.4%). Especially notable has been DePaul student engagement with the unique materials made available through Special Collections and Archives, where demand for instruction increased by 45% between FY11 and FY13, and the number of students reached by these sessions increased by an extraordinary 83.9%. And this is only part of the story, as instruction in information skills can happen in a number of additional venues, including use of online instructional resources (research guides, tutorials, etc.) and one-on-one research consultations.
Teaching and learning was not the only area where DePaul faculty reported a greater level of awareness of library contributions to their work. Fifty-six percent of respondents, for example, noted that it was “important” or “extremely important” for the library to “[provide] active support that helps to increase the productivity of my research and scholarship,” a rating that was 6% higher than the national response. This “active support” may come in the form of new acquisitions, such as our recent investment in Early English Books Online (EEBO) and CINAHL Complete, or in the form of access to new services, such as the OCLC Reciprocal Faculty Borrowing Program, or in the form of support for new models for scholarly communications and publishing, as in our collaboration with Religious Studies professors Thomas O’Brien and Scott Paeth to launch the Journal of Religion and Business Ethics through DePaul’s institutional repository, Via Sapientiae.
Whether the measure is the number of librarians providing direct instruction to DePaul students, the number of faculty participating in programs offered by librarians as part of the Teaching Commons, or collaboration between librarians and faculty to ensure that members of the DePaul community have access to the resources, services, and facilities they need to conduct their scholarly work, it is clear that DePaul faculty see the library as much more than a “gateway” to information. Unlike the national survey, which has been implemented enough times to allow researchers to discern trends, the local pilot provides only a snapshot of the perceptions of DePaul faculty. To the degree that any snapshot is clear, however, the differences between the responses recorded locally and those recorded nationally affirm the critical role that the library plays in the academic enterprise at DePaul, and gives us a starting point for determining how we can continue to serve our community even better as we work together to achieve the goals identified in our strategic plan.
We appreciate the time that almost 250 DePaul faculty members took to complete this survey in Spring 2013, and look forward to future opportunities to work with you to ensure that the library continues to play a vital role in your work.